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The Differences Between a Mobile Workstation and a Laptop
March 19, 2019
At first glance, it may seem that anything that opens and closes like a laptop - and can be taken on-the-go - qualifies as a true laptop. However, many of today’s laptops are actually high-powered machines that are better classified as a mobile workstation.
So, what’s the difference between the two? A workstation is generally designed to perform intense processes such as rendering, 3D animation, CAD, data analysis, and video editing.
On the other hand, a laptop is generally adequate for less resource-heavy tasks such as browsing the web, checking email, and typing up documents. Each is priced according to their capabilities.
Let’s now talk about what classifies a laptop as a true mobile workstation, the advantages of these systems, and how to shop for the best one on the market today.
What is a mobile workstation?
While the classification varies from brand to brand, there are a few notable features of a mobile workstation that are typical across the industry. Most will have many, if not all, of the following components.
1. Multiple processor cores
The ability to handle many programs at one time, especially those that use a tremendous amount of memory, is the hallmark of a mobile workstation. Expect the specifications of a model to have an 8th Generation Intel® i5 or higher, or a comparable processor from another brand.
The same qualities that make a CPU great for gaming gives a mobile workstation the power to handle intense tasks like 3D rendering and manipulating large data sets.
2. Solid-state drives (SSD)
Unlike standard hard drives, an SSD has no moving parts. They work faster and generally last longer while standard HDDs can be more prone to physical failure. An SSD is also designed to handle the workload of systems that never stop and run programs 24 hours a day.
3. Better GPU (graphics processing unit)
While all laptops have graphics cards or processors, a mobile workstation will have a much-upgraded GPU to help relieve the CPU of some of the work in displaying graphics on your display.
This means more life-like output and less lag for those graphic-intense projects like 3D rendering and CAD.
4. ECC memory
Unlike typical computers, which can’t read or resolve single-bit errors, an ECC Memory (error-correcting code) can detect and correct data corruption so that sensitive processes can continue.
Scientific and arithmetic processes, for example, can’t tolerate even the smallest interruption in their calculations, so this type of memory is needed for day-to-day computing tasks in those industries.
5. RAID (redundant array of independent disks)
A RAID system uses more than one hard drive to store information, which decreases the likelihood that a crash will wipe your system. This makes processing and storing data easier and more efficient.
Not all of these features will be available on all mobile workstations, but the industry standard is to have at least a few of them on most of the entry-level models.
Mobile workstation vs laptop: Which is best?
The answer to this question depends on what you want to do.
Laptops are best if:
If you’re a student using your device to write papers, do research, stream movies, and chat with friends on social media, then a laptop should do nicely.
Remember, there is quite range of offerings in the laptop category, including those with up to 1TB storage and better-performing 8th Generation Intel i7 processors.
Today’s laptops also include the ability to connect to multiple external monitors and DVD-RW drives, so you can watch movies, play games, and create your own projects for viewing later.
As long as you aren’t expecting to do too many processes at one time - most day-to-day computer users don’t - a laptop should suit you just fine.
Mobile workstations are best if:
For those whose work includes intensive engineering, design, and editing projects, a mobile workstation is a more appropriate solution.
These machines are made with the power to handle several very involved programs and processes at once. Having a window open with CAD drawings and another with video, for example, won’t be a problem for the mobile workstation.
These are often the workhorses of the industry, with the expectation that they can handle the same workloads as their desktop counterparts. As a result, they will be slightly heavier, use more battery life, and have a premium price tag.
What you get in return, however, is unparalleled performance that’s required by some industries, such as film and animation, engineering, mathematics, and photography.
Finding the best mobile workstation
HP® has set the standard for mobile workstations with its HP ZBook line, which includes the popular HP ZBook 15, x2, and x360 models.
Always looking to expand what professionals and creatives can do on the go, HP frequently updates these models with new and improved features to remain a competitive choice in the marketplace. Here are some of our favorite picks in the HP ZBook workstation family.
1. HP ZBook G3 17-inch mobile workstation
With one of the largest, most-vibrant screens in the industry, the HP ZBook G3 17-inch mobile workstation delivers incredible display options and keeps the creative industry making amazing things.
It’s known to be the most powerful for its size and often replaces full-sized desktops for all applications. It can even manage creating virtual reality worlds, editing multiple content streams, and handling the most complex data at any location.
A popular choice for VR developers, engineers, architects, and product designers, the HP ZBook 17 is fully VR ready and customizable with up to an Intel Core™ i9 or Xeon® processor and a massive 10TB of storage.
You may expect something with this much power and a screen of over 17 inches of UHD or FHD to be a battery-sucking and heat-generating monster. However, it’s surprisingly energy efficient and has 20% better thermals than workstations in the same class.
Enjoy the 128GB of memory and NVIDIA® Quadro® P5200 graphics that let you create, explore, design, and more without waiting for lag or being discouraged by glitchy screen rendering.
2. HP ZBook Studio x360 G5 convertible laptop workstation
This is often labeled the world’s most powerful convertible PC because it can do so much in such a small amount of space. The HP ZBook Studio x360 laptop workstation is marketed as a workstation but is similar in size and shape to a typical convertible laptop.
Designed to run multiple apps with some of the most demanding memory and graphics requirements, it’s a favorite among designers, engineers, and animators.
It’s perfect for editing high-resolution graphics, too, thanks to a winning combo of the NVIDIA Quadro P2000 graphics and 64GB of RAM. Upgrade to the performance powerhouse of the Intel Core i9 or Intel Xeon processors, and you’ll never need to sit at a desktop computer again.
Because it’s a truly convertible model, you can use it in standard laptop form or toggle between tablet mode or tent mode. It’s made to work at any angle with your data’s privacy in mind as the HP Sure View features keep others from peeking in on your work. Just hit the fn+f2 buttons, and those outside the direct viewing area won’t be able to see what you’re working on.
Weighing in at just 5 lbs in its lightest configuration, this powerful tool is portable, too. It sports a full-size, backlit, and spill-proof security keyboard and features a brilliantly designed 15.6-inch diagonal FHD IPS LED-backlit touch screen.
You’ll feel like everything you’re working on is bigger and better while being able to tuck away your business easily under the airplane seat in front of you.
3. HP ZBook G3 15-inch mobile workstation
For the price and features, the HP ZBook G3 15-inch mobile workstation really delivers.
This customizable workstation harnesses the last 30 years of development from the greater HP ZBook family and is designed to pass the rigorous MIL-STD 810G testing and more than 120,000 hours of the HP’s Total Test Process.
Part of a long-standing tradition of excellence, it has been completely redesigned to stand up to today’s demanding professionals with its thinner and lighter composition.
Choose from several configuration options that include a suite of Intel Xeon processors, up to 64GB ECC memory, and a pair of 1TB HP Z Turbo Drive G2 storage slots for up to 3TB of total capacity.
Add on the optional HP DreamColor UHD or FHD touch screen displays, and you’ve pretty much created the ultimate portable workspace that easily rivals any desktop solution you can buy. It also comes with options for the most secure computing experience you can find.
Use your thumb to unlock your device or choose one of several BIOS-based fail-safes that include one-step login, SATA port disablement, DriveLock, removable media write/boot control, and setup password. Your most sensitive data will be safe when you travel or work remotely on your laptop from public spaces.
4. HP ZBook x2 detachable mobile workstation
If inking and drawing are your thing, you can’t go wrong with the workstation that’s also earned a reputation as being the most powerful detachable laptop. The HP ZBook x2 detachable laptop workstation is an Adobe creator’s dream, handling even the most complicating drawing, rendering, and editing tasks with ease.
It’s a true detachable, so you can use it in laptop mode with the removable full-sized keyboard, or just take the tablet portion wherever you go and put it to use with the Wacom EMR pen.
As one of the more impressive creative stylus options on the market, the pencil-like device never needs charging and offers more than 4,000 pressure sensitivity levels, as well as a customizable side button and built-in eraser.
Designed to give you the perfect balance between responsive screen touch and durability, it’s made to handle a busy travel schedule without giving up the programs and tasks you could easily accomplish on a desktop PC.
The display offers 1 billion colors on an anti-glare screen, giving you the best look at the work you’re doing, without having to deal with eye strain and unpredictable lighting conditions.
Even with all these features, it weighs less than 5 lbs in laptop mode and even less when the keyboard is detached.
5. HP ZBook 14u and 15u mobile workstations
If you don’t need all the razzle-dazzle of an inking screen or detachable keyboard, you’ll appreciate the powerful simplicity of the HP ZBook 14u and 15u series.
Geared toward technical managers who need a secure option for handling the most confidential files and programs while on the road, these models are among the lightest in their class at just 3.27 lbs and 3.89 lbs, respectively.
Perhaps the most impressive offering these workstations have is their security. Equipped with HP Sure View and HP Sure-Click, users can keep prying eyes from seeing what’s on their screen with the click of a button.
There is also a webcam with privacy slider, so you no longer have to put those tacky stickers on your gear to keep bad actors from seeing what you create.
The HP Z Turbo Drive high-speed storage and AMD Radeon™ Pro graphics are a match made in heaven, too. Use them to produce your best work in AutoCAD, SolidWorks, and more.
You’ll get it done faster than you can imagine, making you wonder why you ever thought you needed a traditional desktop PC to get your stuff done.
The future of mobile workstations is here
While these models will always be changing and HP® continues to delight with upgrades to compatibility with top programs and enhanced security features, you can be sure that the HP mobile workstation you pick is the right one.
You’ll have the ability to customize your purchase at the time of order, too, which is something other brands can’t always guarantee. Many of the more robust models also let you trade up your processor, storage, and graphics as you outgrow them, making today’s workstation a flexible choice in computing.
A truly portable workstation has benefits beyond both a traditional desktop and a standard PC laptop or notebook. In addition to offering incredible computing power, it can often exceed durability standards and provide mobile solutions for even the most heavy-duty technical projects.
When shopping for the right workstation laptop, be sure you consider how your needs will evolve and pick a product that’s designed to grow with you.
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About the Author: Linsey Knerl is a contributing writer for HP® Tech Takes. Linsey is a Midwest-based author, public speaker, and member of the ASJA. She has a passion for helping consumers and small business owners do more with their resources via the latest tech solutions.